We were never meant to survive

A voice to minorities in the United States of America.

Words by

Artdoc

© Marion Gronier

At the beginning of the 20th century, photographer Edward Curtis made the most ambitious enterprise photographing the American Natives. The Mennonites were photographed extensively by Larry Towell in the early nineties. And recently, many photographers set out to photograph portraits of African-American groups, as Dana Lixenberg did in her book Imperial Courts. French photographer Marion Gronier made a book called We were never meant to survive about these three major constitutional ethnic groups in America. She wants to give a voice to the historical fate and the resistance of minorities in the United States of America.  

© Marion Gronier

Marion Gronier started her six-year project, We were never meant to survive, in 2013 by photographing Mennonites in Pennsylvania, a group of strictly religious Anabaptist Christian people from East Europe who migrated in the 17th century to North America.

She first saw a choir of Mennonites in 2009, singing a Capella in the New York subway. "The contrast between their immaculate whiteness and the dark and dirty passageways was striking. I scrutinized each face one by one. Their strangeness troubled me, almost disturbed me. I thought they were an incarnation of the white American’s ideal of purity, like the legendary Pilgrim Fathers, God’s missionary. Then I got the idea of juxtaposing them with Native American faces and telling the story of the encounter between the two peoples who founded the United States. Influenced by my further research, I decided to add the African-American community, descendants from the enslaved people, to tell about the construction of the United States of America."

The close-up portraits also express the story of the individuals and groups she photographed. Through the individual faces, Marion Gronier tries to reveal the complications and the violence of America's colonial history and its persistence today.

© Marion Gronier

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Powerful expression

Some Natives still live on different reservations, and this is where Marion Gronier photographed them. "I made two long journeys to Arizona living close to two small reservations. Additionally, I went to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. I also spent one month in a Blackfeet reservation in Montana. I lived with a Native American family, so I could be very close to the people. To photograph them, I spent all my days in the reservations. I first identified the places where I could find them, close to supermarkets, petrol stations, and casinos and then I stopped them in the street to take their pictures. For the portraits of the Natives, I chose the same kind of earth-coloured background in reference to the adobe, a mix of clay and straw which they used in ancient times to build their houses. The earth tones also speak of their relationship to the land, which is fundamental to their history and spirituality. I always looked for places in the shadow because I didn't want direct sunlight in the picture. I only asked them to pose for about ten minutes and to look at the camera without smiling."

I lived with a Native American family, so I could be very close to the people.

The faces of the sitters show an expression of depression and deprivation but simultaneously reveal a solid inner resilience and pride. Gronier: “I selected faces with powerful expressions about their shared history. Through their faces, I wanted to say something about the colonial violence they had endured. We cannot deny that they are victims, but they always had a very strong resistance. We tend to forget this aspect.”

© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier

© Marion Gronier


Urban territory

The African-Americans appear to have an expression of intense suffering mixed with vigorous resistance. Gronier placed the sitters against another backdrop, mostly with signs of graffiti. “As with all the groups, it was the idea to express on a secondary level their common situation. The background must be there but not too present. The African-Americans often live in ghettos, an urban territory, where you find this graffiti as an expression of a certain aspect of violence. I wanted to show the place where they lived, and I wanted to show that their history was violent. Moreover, the idea was to show that their history is still vivid and still determines the lives of those communities. You see it reflected in their faces."

© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier


Pure portraits

The photographs, taken with the analogue Hasselblad, have a square form, leaving no room to escape the frontal and bold gaze of the individuals. “I put the face in the centre of the square. I like this radical construction. I want the picture to be powerful by the intensity of the look, not by an overt dramatization with light or composition. Neither do I use 'hors-champs' (off-screen). Every essential element is inside the frame. I like the idea of centrifugal energy directing to the centre of the image. The same accounts for the light. The light is natural, without the use of a flash.”

I want the picture to be powerful by the intensity of the look.

Gronier found the title for her book We were never meant to survive after she finished the project. "It was an extract from the poem “A Litany for Survival" by Audre Lorde, an African-American activist writer and poet. I thought the sentence could work for the photographed groups in the US. It was a way to give them a voice. With this title, I intend to highlight the words of the people I have photographed, a word that has long been confiscated from them. This title tells both their position as oppressed and their strength of resistance. It also evokes the survival produced by photography."

There are no captions with names or any personal background of the people photographed. The people are anonymous and are the representatives of their groups. "I used their faces to say something about the history of America, not to show the individuals. I don't know them actually. I just spoke a few words with them; it was short encounters."

Marion Gronier (1976) lives in Marseille, France. Her photos are collected by Nicéphore Niépce Museum, in Charleroi’s Museum of Photography, Neuflize OBC Foundation, HSBC Foundation for Photography. She published 3 books, I am your fantasy, Images en Manœuvre Éditions, 2011; Les glorieux, Résidence BMW-Musée Niépce, Éditions Trocadéro, 2013 and We were never meant to survive, Le Bec en l’air Éditions, 2021

Marion Gronier, We Were Never Meant to Survive, Editions Le Bec en l'air, € 38,00

Exhibition: Galerie le Château d’Eau, Toulouse, France, September 8, 2022, | December 31, 2022

We were never meant to survive

A voice to minorities in the United States of America.

Words by

Artdoc

© Marion Gronier

At the beginning of the 20th century, photographer Edward Curtis made the most ambitious enterprise photographing the American Natives. The Mennonites were photographed extensively by Larry Towell in the early nineties. And recently, many photographers set out to photograph portraits of African-American groups, as Dana Lixenberg did in her book Imperial Courts. French photographer Marion Gronier made a book called We were never meant to survive about these three major constitutional ethnic groups in America. She wants to give a voice to the historical fate and the resistance of minorities in the United States of America.  

© Marion Gronier

Marion Gronier started her six-year project, We were never meant to survive, in 2013 by photographing Mennonites in Pennsylvania, a group of strictly religious Anabaptist Christian people from East Europe who migrated in the 17th century to North America.

She first saw a choir of Mennonites in 2009, singing a Capella in the New York subway. "The contrast between their immaculate whiteness and the dark and dirty passageways was striking. I scrutinized each face one by one. Their strangeness troubled me, almost disturbed me. I thought they were an incarnation of the white American’s ideal of purity, like the legendary Pilgrim Fathers, God’s missionary. Then I got the idea of juxtaposing them with Native American faces and telling the story of the encounter between the two peoples who founded the United States. Influenced by my further research, I decided to add the African-American community, descendants from the enslaved people, to tell about the construction of the United States of America."

The close-up portraits also express the story of the individuals and groups she photographed. Through the individual faces, Marion Gronier tries to reveal the complications and the violence of America's colonial history and its persistence today.

© Marion Gronier

Powerful expression

Some Natives still live on different reservations, and this is where Marion Gronier photographed them. "I made two long journeys to Arizona living close to two small reservations. Additionally, I went to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. I also spent one month in a Blackfeet reservation in Montana. I lived with a Native American family, so I could be very close to the people. To photograph them, I spent all my days in the reservations. I first identified the places where I could find them, close to supermarkets, petrol stations, and casinos and then I stopped them in the street to take their pictures. For the portraits of the Natives, I chose the same kind of earth-coloured background in reference to the adobe, a mix of clay and straw which they used in ancient times to build their houses. The earth tones also speak of their relationship to the land, which is fundamental to their history and spirituality. I always looked for places in the shadow because I didn't want direct sunlight in the picture. I only asked them to pose for about ten minutes and to look at the camera without smiling."

I lived with a Native American family, so I could be very close to the people.

The faces of the sitters show an expression of depression and deprivation but simultaneously reveal a solid inner resilience and pride. Gronier: “I selected faces with powerful expressions about their shared history. Through their faces, I wanted to say something about the colonial violence they had endured. We cannot deny that they are victims, but they always had a very strong resistance. We tend to forget this aspect.”

© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier

© Marion Gronier


Urban territory

The African-Americans appear to have an expression of intense suffering mixed with vigorous resistance. Gronier placed the sitters against another backdrop, mostly with signs of graffiti. “As with all the groups, it was the idea to express on a secondary level their common situation. The background must be there but not too present. The African-Americans often live in ghettos, an urban territory, where you find this graffiti as an expression of a certain aspect of violence. I wanted to show the place where they lived, and I wanted to show that their history was violent. Moreover, the idea was to show that their history is still vivid and still determines the lives of those communities. You see it reflected in their faces."

© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier


Pure portraits

The photographs, taken with the analogue Hasselblad, have a square form, leaving no room to escape the frontal and bold gaze of the individuals. “I put the face in the centre of the square. I like this radical construction. I want the picture to be powerful by the intensity of the look, not by an overt dramatization with light or composition. Neither do I use 'hors-champs' (off-screen). Every essential element is inside the frame. I like the idea of centrifugal energy directing to the centre of the image. The same accounts for the light. The light is natural, without the use of a flash.”

I want the picture to be powerful by the intensity of the look.

Gronier found the title for her book We were never meant to survive after she finished the project. "It was an extract from the poem “A Litany for Survival" by Audre Lorde, an African-American activist writer and poet. I thought the sentence could work for the photographed groups in the US. It was a way to give them a voice. With this title, I intend to highlight the words of the people I have photographed, a word that has long been confiscated from them. This title tells both their position as oppressed and their strength of resistance. It also evokes the survival produced by photography."

There are no captions with names or any personal background of the people photographed. The people are anonymous and are the representatives of their groups. "I used their faces to say something about the history of America, not to show the individuals. I don't know them actually. I just spoke a few words with them; it was short encounters."

Marion Gronier (1976) lives in Marseille, France. Her photos are collected by Nicéphore Niépce Museum, in Charleroi’s Museum of Photography, Neuflize OBC Foundation, HSBC Foundation for Photography. She published 3 books, I am your fantasy, Images en Manœuvre Éditions, 2011; Les glorieux, Résidence BMW-Musée Niépce, Éditions Trocadéro, 2013 and We were never meant to survive, Le Bec en l’air Éditions, 2021

Marion Gronier, We Were Never Meant to Survive, Editions Le Bec en l'air, € 38,00

Exhibition: Galerie le Château d’Eau, Toulouse, France, September 8, 2022, | December 31, 2022

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We were never meant to survive

A voice to minorities in the United States of America.

Words by

Artdoc

© Marion Gronier

At the beginning of the 20th century, photographer Edward Curtis made the most ambitious enterprise photographing the American Natives. The Mennonites were photographed extensively by Larry Towell in the early nineties. And recently, many photographers set out to photograph portraits of African-American groups, as Dana Lixenberg did in her book Imperial Courts. French photographer Marion Gronier made a book called We were never meant to survive about these three major constitutional ethnic groups in America. She wants to give a voice to the historical fate and the resistance of minorities in the United States of America.  

© Marion Gronier

Marion Gronier started her six-year project, We were never meant to survive, in 2013 by photographing Mennonites in Pennsylvania, a group of strictly religious Anabaptist Christian people from East Europe who migrated in the 17th century to North America.

She first saw a choir of Mennonites in 2009, singing a Capella in the New York subway. "The contrast between their immaculate whiteness and the dark and dirty passageways was striking. I scrutinized each face one by one. Their strangeness troubled me, almost disturbed me. I thought they were an incarnation of the white American’s ideal of purity, like the legendary Pilgrim Fathers, God’s missionary. Then I got the idea of juxtaposing them with Native American faces and telling the story of the encounter between the two peoples who founded the United States. Influenced by my further research, I decided to add the African-American community, descendants from the enslaved people, to tell about the construction of the United States of America."

The close-up portraits also express the story of the individuals and groups she photographed. Through the individual faces, Marion Gronier tries to reveal the complications and the violence of America's colonial history and its persistence today.

© Marion Gronier

Powerful expression

Some Natives still live on different reservations, and this is where Marion Gronier photographed them. "I made two long journeys to Arizona living close to two small reservations. Additionally, I went to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. I also spent one month in a Blackfeet reservation in Montana. I lived with a Native American family, so I could be very close to the people. To photograph them, I spent all my days in the reservations. I first identified the places where I could find them, close to supermarkets, petrol stations, and casinos and then I stopped them in the street to take their pictures. For the portraits of the Natives, I chose the same kind of earth-coloured background in reference to the adobe, a mix of clay and straw which they used in ancient times to build their houses. The earth tones also speak of their relationship to the land, which is fundamental to their history and spirituality. I always looked for places in the shadow because I didn't want direct sunlight in the picture. I only asked them to pose for about ten minutes and to look at the camera without smiling."

I lived with a Native American family, so I could be very close to the people.

The faces of the sitters show an expression of depression and deprivation but simultaneously reveal a solid inner resilience and pride. Gronier: “I selected faces with powerful expressions about their shared history. Through their faces, I wanted to say something about the colonial violence they had endured. We cannot deny that they are victims, but they always had a very strong resistance. We tend to forget this aspect.”

© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier

© Marion Gronier


Urban territory

The African-Americans appear to have an expression of intense suffering mixed with vigorous resistance. Gronier placed the sitters against another backdrop, mostly with signs of graffiti. “As with all the groups, it was the idea to express on a secondary level their common situation. The background must be there but not too present. The African-Americans often live in ghettos, an urban territory, where you find this graffiti as an expression of a certain aspect of violence. I wanted to show the place where they lived, and I wanted to show that their history was violent. Moreover, the idea was to show that their history is still vivid and still determines the lives of those communities. You see it reflected in their faces."

© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier
© Marion Gronier


Pure portraits

The photographs, taken with the analogue Hasselblad, have a square form, leaving no room to escape the frontal and bold gaze of the individuals. “I put the face in the centre of the square. I like this radical construction. I want the picture to be powerful by the intensity of the look, not by an overt dramatization with light or composition. Neither do I use 'hors-champs' (off-screen). Every essential element is inside the frame. I like the idea of centrifugal energy directing to the centre of the image. The same accounts for the light. The light is natural, without the use of a flash.”

I want the picture to be powerful by the intensity of the look.

Gronier found the title for her book We were never meant to survive after she finished the project. "It was an extract from the poem “A Litany for Survival" by Audre Lorde, an African-American activist writer and poet. I thought the sentence could work for the photographed groups in the US. It was a way to give them a voice. With this title, I intend to highlight the words of the people I have photographed, a word that has long been confiscated from them. This title tells both their position as oppressed and their strength of resistance. It also evokes the survival produced by photography."

There are no captions with names or any personal background of the people photographed. The people are anonymous and are the representatives of their groups. "I used their faces to say something about the history of America, not to show the individuals. I don't know them actually. I just spoke a few words with them; it was short encounters."

Marion Gronier (1976) lives in Marseille, France. Her photos are collected by Nicéphore Niépce Museum, in Charleroi’s Museum of Photography, Neuflize OBC Foundation, HSBC Foundation for Photography. She published 3 books, I am your fantasy, Images en Manœuvre Éditions, 2011; Les glorieux, Résidence BMW-Musée Niépce, Éditions Trocadéro, 2013 and We were never meant to survive, Le Bec en l’air Éditions, 2021

Marion Gronier, We Were Never Meant to Survive, Editions Le Bec en l'air, € 38,00

Exhibition: Galerie le Château d’Eau, Toulouse, France, September 8, 2022, | December 31, 2022

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